'We'll come out like a pack of wolves' - de Villiers
South Africa captain AB de Villiers promised an all-out attack when South Africa take on India in the Champions Trophy opener on Thursday. Despite a lethargic start to their stay in England, which was underlined by a six-wicket defeat to Pakistan in the warm-up on Monday, de Villiers gave an assurance that his team will up the intensity significantly when the event begins.
"We'll have to come out like a pack of wolves tomorrow and really try towards one goal and that is to win the game," he said. "There is no room to hide in these tournaments."
De Villiers knows South Africa enter the competition with expectations high even though they may not inspire confidence in those who have tracked their progress at ICC events in the past and have followed their preparations in the build-up this time. Nevermind that they are without two of their senior-most players, Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, they have the added concern of Dale Steyn's injury and the unit's lack of game time over the last two months.
Their team camp in Holland was dampened by the wet weather and even though they breezed past the Netherlands in an ODI, they were soon brought down to earth by Pakistan. Still, its de Villiers' job to play down the problems and deliver the fighting talk, so that's what he did.
He said there was "no reason whatsoever to be over-positive coming into England," to dismiss thoughts that the big win over the Netherlands caused complacency against Pakistan. "The Netherlands game was just for team bowling, getting mentally in a good space," he said.
With both JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis making their returns from injury with runs in that match, it almost did not matter that South Africa did not bowl their minnow opposition out. There was reason to be positive. "Mentally we feel ready and we feel strong," he said.
Phrases like that come out because of South Africa's reputation. If they did not crumble pressure and are not been labelled chokers, speaking about their state of mind would be unwarranted. But because South Africa are seen to have problems in that department, anyone who leads them into an ICC event has to overcompensate by turning even obvious dark spots into something shiny and bright.
"The other thing that is very good is to have walked into a very good Pakistan team on a wicket that did a bit in the morning and all the bowlers had a nice work through. It was really good and it's not a bad thing to lose those warm-up games," de Villiers said, dispelling the theory of winning momentum. "It's a bit of a wake up call to remind us that this is the time to go. We're in the big tournament now, no more room for error."
Why South Africa would need any extra signposting for what they need to do at a competition like this is anyone's guess. After 15 years of disappointments, they should know putting even a toe wrong will cause alarm back home.
What may be a greater worry than their attempts at reverse-psychology in the immediate term is Steyn, especially because South Africa's strategies seem to rely heavily on their bowlers. "We all know in England the new ball is important and in the first ten overs we have to try and get wickets," de Villiers said. "Looking at the stats as well and the local games, they get a lot of wickets in the first 10 or 20 overs. So we'll be trying to target that. We'll definitely have an attacking mindset of picking up wickets early on."
Steyn's swing would have been a trump card but it seems de Villiers will only be able to use him later on. "It's obviously not looking good," he said, referring to Steyn's side-strain. "It's sort of touch and go, but it is, obviously, an issue and something we'll have to look at. There are a few more games coming up. It's not the one and only game so we wouldn't like to get him out of the rest of the tournament." The fast bowler trained with the squad on Wednesday and a final call will only be taken in the morning.
Without him there is every chance South Africa will revert to a more conservative approach, which they intend to employ with the bat anyway. After hearing news of India's demolition of Australia at the same ground yesterday, de Villiers said that even without seeing the match, he could tell from the scorecard that the Australian batsmen, "probably didn't respect the new ball enough in the first 10 or 15 overs."
Australia were 28 for 5 inside 10 overs and even though India also struggled upfront (they were 39 for 4), de Villiers believed they showed the "skill to adapt and assess conditions better." South Africa have long tried to be similar cricket chameleons and while their Test side are professionals at it, their limited-overs teams can never change colours quickly enough. They went to the 2011 World Cup with three spinners to suit conditions and it still backfired on them.
Because of instances like that, nothing South Africa say in the lead-up will change the overall theme of any preview about their chances. Until they win a World Cup, they will always be nearly men in this format and all they can do while they wait and hope for that to happen is keep believing like de Villiers does. "We'll be using the experience we do have and the energy we have in team to get out there and win one game at a time and hopefully we'll take the trophy back home."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent